There has been a theme present and persistent. It has been there for me for a few years now, but now and then it grows louder. God is calling. When I think about it, it does not surprise me at all that this building pressure once again came as I sat tonight and listened to Jared Lathem preach at Holbrook Camp Meeting. I have been meaning to get there for the past week, and other duties have prevented me, until this, the last of his sermons. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise to me either. God’s power is often in His timing as much as His action. I imagine the rest of the sermons this week were wonderful. I imagine those who attend Holbrook every year were greatly blessed by them. I imagine I would have been too, had I been able to go. But, I also know with certainty I only would have made the drive once or twice during the week, and God knew I was supposed to be present tonight.
I say it does not surprise me that this sense of renewed calling from God came from Jared. It was the Holy Spirit shouting through him (note the Holy Spirit was shouting, not Jared) in those first years I came back to church with a heart set on doing God’s will. It was the Holy Spirit speaking in his sermons that instilled in me such deep longing, and if I am honest such deep confusion, frustration and impatience with not knowing how to fill that longing. It was one night at the Rising where God planted the call to learn to preach, first revealed as a simple but public prayer meeting that I mostly stood and did alone in front of the courthouse here. It was in reading one of Jared’s Dad’s books where God roared the message that I was to be a preacher, but not a pastor. And it was the day that Jared announced he was leaving our congregation that God demanded I help pastor the church He had given me to be a part of. That call, once I understood what it meant, set me on the path that led me to today. I am not the pastor, nor actually a pastor in the typical sense we use today. But, I have become, by God’s grace, a guide, support and servant to the congregation at Ball Ground UMC.
That journey is a story for another day. I touch on it only to explain that for these last two years, God has been teaching me quiet, patience, stewardship, and grace. He has been requiring I seek Him in the small things, set aside the often urgent in favor of His longer term plans, and above all to walk in faith and obedience without requiring an understanding of His plans. It is difficult sometimes to receive a clear call that makes you cry, only to have that clarity shaken as the work God calls you into seems to take you on a completely different path. It is difficult to wait, move with agonizing slowness, and watch as things don’t work out quite like you thought they would. It is difficult not to lose patience, speak rashly. It is harder when you can see things that others don’t, when you catch glimpses of things both good and bad that are coming, but can’t share them. It is miserable in some ways when God, rather than diminish the Gifts He has given you until you need them, leaves them in place but stops you from doing anything with them. It makes you weary. More than that though, it builds habits that are hard to snap out of. Waiting is a habit. Quiet is a habit. Slowness is a habit.
I have felt changes coming in what God wants from me for several months. But, the reality is I wasn’t sure I was reading things right. I have been reading and listening more lately, and catching bits and pieces. But, I can’t seem to get a firm grasp on the steps that come next. Mostly, I have felt like I’m just sleep walking through some things, still joyful in the mundane because it is the work God has placed before me, but constantly scrambling from one thing to the next and never quite sure any of it means anything in the grand scheme of things. It’s easy to stay focused on the day to day when I am clear in my head and my heart that that is where God wants me focused. It becomes more difficult as I begin to feel these tugs toward change. My heart yearns for it, whatever it may be. At the same time, I shy away from that yearning so I won’t get distracted by it, and fall down on doing what I’m supposed to be doing day to day.
Tonight I sat and listened to Jared preach again. It was pleasant and a bit nostalgic in some ways. He’s grown a bit in his preachings style, some of the rough edges have worn away a little. The passion he has for God is still present, but perhaps more tempered and focused now. He’s a little more comfortable in his skin and with what God has called him to I think. I imagine I’ve grown and changed a bit too since those days before he left. My ears hear a little differently now. In some ways the message was not so pleasant, or perhaps not unpleasant, but not meant to fill my ears tonight. Jared is, as he has always been, an evangelist. His message, as it has always been, is focused outward toward reaching those who do not yet know Christ. There was a time that focus made me a little crazy, and when I am honest, guilty. I am not an evangelist. My heart does not break in a deep, personal sense, for all the unchurced of the world. I am not driven to seek out the lost who do not know Christ and need His salvation. See, even writing that now makes me squirm a little, because the church is called to carry the Gospel into the world, and to deny I have a gift or desire for that is tantamount to rejecting the mission of the church in my circles. I will admit I was even a little sad at first when I realized that was where the message was going. It would have been a good message, a needed message, especially in that place at that time. But, deep in my heart, I think I went expecting to hear a Word that spoke to this struggle I have been having lately.
God is a God who answers our heart’s desires when our hearts are set on Him, and always speaks when we are seeking a Word. As I sat and listened to Jared tie that evangelic mission back to the message of guarding our hearts, and one of my favorite verses in Philippians, I began to cry. When he wrapped up not with a call to go preaching the Gospel to those who had not heard, but instead to commit ourselves to becoming holy so the lost and dying world would be drawn to Christ I wept. I am not called to evangelism. I am called to making disciples, teaching those who know Christ what it means to follow. I am driven by a deep desire to help others find a faith that isn’t lip service or sitting in the pews on Sunday morning, but one that creates in them a new life, free from the chains of sin that weigh them down and strangle God’s joy in their lives. There is nothing I desire more in this life than to live each day dead to what I want and what I am so I can be alive with Christ in a world that is dying to find Him. I want nothing more than to love God with all I am, because I know that in the loving Him others will see Him and seek Him and I will have the opportunity to share the joy I have found in Him.
I finished a book on Discipleship today. It had questions in it that made me cry because I did not know the answers. Questions like what are you doing to love your neighbors? Where do you need to do more? What do you need to do different? My heart cried because most days it feels like I am doing all I can, all I know how to do, yet still there is that growing, pressing, drawing call that says I cannot simply say there’s nothing more I need to do, nothing different. The question that made me cry the hardest was the one I did have an answer to though. If Jesus were to ask directly “Where are you going?” what would the answer be? My soul choked out “Wherever you tell me to.” But, in the tears, and in the call tonight I realized what my heart was really saying was please tell me where so I can go. Please tell me what, so I can do. Daddy, please help me move.
I sat at the altar tonight in tears of relief. Not because there was a sudden answer to the where and what for me, there are still only glimmers of that. But, because there was a starting point: discipleship. A starting point that affirmed so many of the other nudges and pulls of God I’ve been getting lately. I sat at the altar tonight in tears of thanksgiving, because I could respond to that call. And because Jared, the earthly voice of that first call, summoned me forward to be blessed, anointed and sent. I know I was not the only one at the altar tonight. I also know that there were fewer there, committing to chasing holiness, than Jared would have liked. But, I know too that that part doesn’t matter. I could say the scarcity of numbers was because it was an altar call at the end of a week of altar calls. I could say it was that the congregation was probably smaller than it might have been earlier in the week, as people left early and went back to their lives. I could say it was that many folks when they feel such a call, stay in their seats not wanting to draw attention to themselves even as they answer that call in their hearts. All those things are true to one degree or another.
Then again, God being God, and attending to each of us so closely, with such immaculate timing, I could also say that this one night, that call was meant just for the handful of us who have grown weary with waiting. Perhaps it was only meant to be a whisper in the heart of a crying soul longing for a Word from the Father who loves her.
Pray without ceasing, and glorify the Lord.